Prime Video, a Fully Armed and Operational Streaming Network
Plus: a makeup assignment!
Speaking as a humble consumer of content in all its forms and not as an omniscient observer of the media business scene, there are two things* keeping streaming options from, finally, overwhelming basic cable once and for all.
The first is the lack of cable news. I don’t watch CNN every day (apologies to all my friends at CNN, whom I love a great deal). But when something’s happening—an election night, a terrorist attack, a hurricane, a presidential address, whatever—I want the option to watch CNN (as well as MSNBC and Fox to get the full gamut of cable news reactions). In that sense, having cable is a bit like having insurance: it’s there if I need it when I need it, but I don’t need it every day. I imagine many of the people reading this newsletter feel the same way
The second thing is sports. ESPN+ isn’t ESPN; using cable is easier than hooking up an HD antenna to get the broadcast networks; NBA playoffs are on TNT and TBS (or maybe one or the other, somewhere anyway); if I ever want to watch a Texas Rangers game for some reason, there’s a sports network right on Spectrum in Dallas that allows me to do so. I don’t watch nearly as much sports as I used to, but having the option to throw on NCAA and NFL games during football season is something I value a great deal.
Building a whole new cable news net for streaming would be difficult. But buying the rights for sports leagues just costs money. And no one has more money that Amazon. (Well, except for Apple. More on them in a minute.) Which is why it makes sense that Amazon has dipped its toes in NFL waters over the last few years, finally taking the plunge and locking up exclusive rights to Thursday Night Football for this season and a bunch more after that.
Again: the cost for Amazon isn’t cheap, roughly $67 million per game over the next decade-plus. But the benefits are enormous. This makes Prime Video a must-download for tens of millions of households, many of which already have Prime but some of which likely will not; this is likely driving both activations of subs already paid for as well as driving new subs. Perhaps more importantly, this gives Prime Video a space and a captive audience to advertise not only their socks and books and garbage bags, but also their billion-dollar Lord of the Rings series, Reacher, and everything else they’re working on.
In a very real way, the NFL is best understood not as a sports league but as a method for the networks to hammer home what the new shows each season are. It’s why when you’re watching the Bengals play on CBS you get a dozen ads per game for Young Sheldon or whatever. The football being played is incidental to the ad-delivery device of the ref’s whistle, hence all the constant whistling.**
The migration of sports to streaming will be the thing that finally breaks the back of linear TV. Apple TV+ is investing in baseball; Peacock has the English Premier League; heck, I watched a handful of tennis matches on Hulu this year for the first time. It’ll be decades before all the rights deals unwind and migrate fully to streaming services, but that day is coming.
And likely sooner than we think.
*Well, three things, the first being inertia. It’s a pain in the ass to call up your cable company, cancel cable, keep Internet, etc. And when you start having that conversation you realize the savings aren’t quite what you hoped (standalone Internet is expensive!) so maybe you just stick around anyway.
**As an aside, this is why I’ve always been slightly confused by the NFL’s creation of the Red Zone channel, premised as it is on explicitly cutting out the ad time from games around the country.
On our members-only bonus episode of Across the Movie Aisle this week, we talked about A24’s very good decade. Give it a listen here.
(And if you aren’t a B+ subscriber, try it out for two weeks free. You’ll love it, I gar-on-tee.)
For more on the topic of who is watching what and where, you have to check out the Entertainment Strategy Guy’s series for The Ankler on the American viewer. Part Five is here, and it links to the previous entries in the series. (Spoiler: he also thinks sports matter a great deal to the future of streamers. Further spoilers: prestige shows of the sort awarded at the Emmys are absolutely not what people are watching.) Yes, that link is paywalled, I know. But it’s a good sub!
Speaking of The Ankler, I had Sean McNulty, the author of their morning roundup email, on The Bulwark Goes to Hollywood this week to talk about D23, the lack of audience for the Emmys, and all sorts of other stuff.
The Woman King is … fine. It feels like two subplots were lost in the editing room and the action sequences look like they were put together by the BBC (a problem director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s previous film, The Old Guard, shared), but the performances are extraordinary and, thus, the film remains compelling throughout. The rare picture I wish had been slightly longer rather than slightly shorter.
André Forget’s essay on the 100th anniversary of Walter Lippmann’s book, Public Opinion, reminds me that I really need to revisit Walter Lippmann’s book, Public Opinion. Here’s Forget on a question the book tackled that is as timely now as ever: “How could citizens and legislators, especially in the democratic countries, make informed judgments if they were being fed lies, hearsay, and gross exaggerations of fact? If people didn’t know the truth, how could they be free?”
I really want to check out the new 4K release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as it gets closer to the director’s vision for the film than the theatrical cut. Indiewire’s interview with David Fein gets at the differences large and small and how they impact viewing the audience experience.
Streaming has led to a boom in documentaries, which has in turn led to a bunch of ethical dilemmas. Interesting read here.
Assigned Viewing: Quick Change (Kanopy)
I accidentally called Quick Change “Loose Change” in my last newsletter, a mistake that I knew I was going to make eventually since I spent several years studying 9/11 Truthers and the deranged YouTube documentary “Loose Change” is a foundational Truther text. To make up for that, I shall assign both me and you Quick Change, which you can access via Kanopy, a service that many (most?) public libraries will grant you access to for free.
Anyway, this is a fine movie featuring a really interesting Bill Murray performance. It is not about how the Twin Towers were brought down via controlled demolition. I regret my error in the previous edition of this newsletter.
The one big difference between streaming a football game and watching it on cable - is the ability to change channels during commercials or halftime and watching something else - that is something that streaming doesn't easily allow - I wonder how consumers will feel about that?
Two unrelated things:
1. RED ZONE makes perfect sense if you understand where it fits in the NFL’s ecosystem. It’s a(n expensive) subscription that attracts hardcore NFL fans and degenerate gamblers (mostly fantasy footballers). It’s basically the crack cocaine of NFL watching.
2. Quick Change is Bill Murray’s most under appreciated movie, especially by Bill Murray. Setting aside his feelings about the movie, it’s legit his best “too-cool-for-school” performance ever. Geena Davis and Randy Quaid are note-perfect in their roles, too. Honestly, if we were doing a Bill Murray movie draft Quick Change would probably be my first pick.